Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 February 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


Sri Lanka issues and US:

Assessing LTTE rump strategy

Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, at a media briefing on Wednesday in Colombo, presented his take of men and matters and events during his most recent diplomatic endeavour in Geneva and Washington DC to explain the ‘Sri Lanka side of the story’ as opposed to the ‘story’ given by the separatist Tiger activists within the Tamil Diaspora for many years before and after the domestic demise of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

Secretary Lalith Weeratunga

The interesting point Weeratunga made at this briefing was that an ‘Anti-Lanka (US) lawmaker couldn't spot Sri Lanka on the map’.

This is encouraging because Sri Lanka's public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication should start at this point, educating about this South Asian nation, its strategic location off the southern tip of India (as John Kerry underscored in his Senate foreign relations committee's December 2009 report), the tourist attraction, the magnificent beaches in the East Coast, and of course world famous ‘Ceylon Tea’ slowly travelling to national political issues of Sri Lanka.


The Americans too faced a similar situation: In 1979, Colombo American Embassy's public affairs unit, the United States Information Service, faced a similar situation when government and opposition politicians initiated massive anti-American demonstrations outside its diplomatic chancery.

The media went on a rampage denouncing the United States, and a hostile atmosphere toward American presence in Sri Lanka was rapidly building to the reports that the Massachusetts State Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution in support of the TULF ‘Vadukkodai Resolution’ declaring that the Tamil Minority had the right to their ‘homeland’, they have the right to self-determination and the supreme right to secede from Sri Lanka to have their own independent/sovereign state in the north and east of the country.

That the United States administration was supporting the division of Sri Lanka witnessed by several TULF leaders including M. Sivasithabaram at the gallery of the State House when the resolution was adopted.

The heat was increasing when the public affairs unit staff with two (US) foreign service officers (FSOs) in attendance and chaired by the deputy chief of mission (DCM) to figure out the strategy to defuse the situation.

This writer who was a public affairs assistant was one of many in that group when the issue arose what leverage the Massachusetts State Assembly had with the (federal/central) American administration in Washington headed by the president and the (US) Congress which is the supreme lawmaking body of the nation.

Independent effort

It was construed that there was a utter lack of understanding of the American system, three separate arms (executive, legislature and judiciary) and that there were fifty autonomous states one of which was Massachusetts and that the adoption of the ‘Eelam’ resolution did not at all reflected the sentiments of either the White House (Executive) or the Congress (bicameral lawmaking body) but an independent effort by the Massachusetts legislature influenced by the separatist lobby in the US and Sri Lanka.

The decision at that meeting was to start from scratch and explain the American system to selected, leading Sri Lanka lawmakers (troublemakers included), the media and one-on-one and group meetings with editors/lead writers of all newspapers (which included B.A. Siriwardene, editor of the Communist Party daily Aththa, write feature articles for the media explaining the system. The exercise brought dividends, and the anti-American sentiments were laid to rest and the campaign accusing the United States fizzled out to the satisfaction of the ambassador and Washington.

It is a futile attempt for Sri Lanka to engage in search of the ‘best’ Washington lobbying firm to pass the message Sri Lanka needs to give to policymakers and lawmakers if those who are engaged in external affairs and foreign policy unable to ‘educate’ the handlers of the US$66,000 a month lobbying firm that not the entire minority (12%) Tamil population in Sri Lanka rose in unison to destabilise Sri Lanka but a handful of ‘adventurists’ led by Prabhaharan terrorised the entire nation. (The Asian Tribune in a previous report highlighted the wrong message the Thompson lobbying firm disseminated to the US lawmakers in a letter).

LTTE rump strategy

One need not be a political scientist or a legal luminary to comprehend, if one keenly peruses - with an investigative mind - the events that unfolded since the military defeat of the separatist Tamil Tiger or LTTE brutal and lethal force in May 2009 and the internationalisation of Sri Lanka's domestic issues, the emergence of Tiger leader Prabhaharan's overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing helped set the terms of debate on Sri Lankan issues which culminated in the Global Diplomatic Insurgency.

In fact, the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora very carefully selected issues - issues that Sri Lanka at the outset considered to be too insignificant - to put items on the country's agenda.

A careful assessment further reveals that the professional arm of the Tamil Diaspora - who emotionally reacted to the demise of the Tamil Tiger leadership - was so focused that they became a source of information and analysis that provided a great deal of information and data to the United States Department of State officials, Members of the Congress, and their supportive staff, and non-governmental organisations largely shaping their general perspective.

True story

President's secretary Weeratunga himself said at the media briefing in Colombo that one congressmen get at least fifty anti-Sri Lanka messages while not a single message advocating Sri Lanka's official position and related issues.

This is exactly that has bothered, Sri Lanka Consul General-designee for the Western States in the United States, Malraj de Silva that no coordinated efforts have been made to inform lawmakers and policymakers of the true story of Sri Lanka, the 30-year trajectory of the Tamil Tigers, the role played by the present lobbyists within the Tamil Diaspora during the time the Tamil Tigers were on rampage in Sri Lanka providing them ‘material support’, giving them expert advice, raising funds and encouraging the procurement of lethal weapons all of which were in violation of US Federal Laws.

When early signs were emerging the transfer of Prabhaharan's lifelong dream of a separate Tamil nation in the north-east part of Sri Lanka to this overseas collateral movement - franchised in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Bonn, Canberra, Ottawa etc - a State Department official whom I knew during my days in that ‘encampment’ noted that their emotions were running riot because the civil war in Sri Lanka involved their kith and kin and that emotion and rage was now slowly and steadily being transformed into political action.

Sri Lanka failed to understand this sentiments, and that sentiment has gone a long way to what's going on at present: The uncomfortable road to Geneva to face the US-sponsored resolution in March.

Principal players

Most of the information, data and analyses provided to global forums were largely distortions, misinterpretations, exaggerations of Sri Lanka issues leading to lies, half-truths, diabolical falsehood that went unchallenged in the first 48 months since the annihilation of the LTTE by those who handled foreign affairs for Sri Lanka. Or, the handlers thought less of the capability of the principal players of Prabhaharan's global collateral arm.

Separatist Tamil Diaspora global collateral arm which consisted of franchises in Western cities was fully aware that when issues promoted by it are priorities, and are in line with the American administration, the Diaspora activists have a greater influence in the US policy oversights.

All the issues in the aftermath of Prabhaharan's death centered on Tamil grievances and rights, a perspective well developed within the portals of the American diplomatic mission in Colombo in the eighties and the first half of the nineties to consolidate policy planks to which this writer had up-close and personal knowledge.

The pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora commenced the Eelam ‘War’ V with this advantage to which the policymakers in Sri Lanka had only a scant knowledge.

Human rights

A careful study shows that the major reason for a considerable success of the separatist/secessionist activists within the Tamil Diaspora in later years which reflected in anti-Sri Lanka resolutions in both chambers of the US Congress, a series of letters initiated by influential Members of the Congress to Obama administration officials highlighting alleged violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), the pugnacious stance the global rights groups adopted and anti-Sri Lanka fervour emanated in House and Senate hearings in Washington is nothing but the Diaspora activist understanding of American democratic values and (US) strategic interests.

Another factor of the durability of Tamil Diaspora-American discourse in the U.S and their success in resuscitating and appropriating ethnic identities is greatly influenced by the US administration's view of the administration in Sri Lanka.

Whether Sri Lanka inadvertently provided fodder to the ‘collateral wing and to its franchises’ to strengthen this discourse is another issue altogether.

Thomas Ambrosio, Assistant Professor of Political Science, North Dakota State University in a submission on the issue of diaspora communities and their influence on US foreign policy stated that when one seeks to understand diaspora groups and their influence on US foreign policy, the question is not should ethnic groups influence foreign policy but how they affect foreign policy, what are their goals and why do they mobilise.


Had those questions been addressed one would have, to some extent, understood the strategy and maneuvering of Prabhaharan's (overseas and US) collateral political and diplomatic wing and its franchises to initially shape Sri Lanka's foreign policy approaches to the emerging issues since May 2009.

Our most recent experience has clearly shown that the Tamil Diaspora lobby sought to influence US policy in three ways.

The collateral political and diplomatic wing of the now demised LTTE used these three strategies seeking influence in the State Department and both arms of the Congress. They used those in other European capitals too.

First, by framing the issues "that help set the terms of debate" or "put items on the country's agenda."

Second, they are a source of information and analysis that provide a great deal of information to members of Congress and serve as a resource for other branches of government and non-governmental organisations, and shaping general perspectives. Mr. Weeratunga is now well aware of this and to the utter disappointment of Mr. Malraj de Silva)

Finally, unceasing lobbying campaigns providing policy oversight. These are all diplomatic overtures Sri Lanka's foreign relations/policy arm should have perused.

It is the failure in this vital areas that led to the out sourcing of foreign policy/relation overtures to lobbying firms? And we recently found how illiterate one lobbying firm was about Sri Lanka.

Resolution 177

There is no mistake in using lobbying firms for certain limited objectives such as the manner in which Dr. Jeyerajah-led US Tamil Political Action Council used the Washington lobbying firm KSCW Inc. to successfully table an anti-Sri Lanka Resolution 177 in the US House with 53 signatures which included influential and prominent House Members in 2012 vastly enhancing the 'voice' of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora. The records showed that the USTPAC invested US$30,000 to get three reports on 'specific issues' besides successfully tabling the H.RES. 177.

A close scrutiny shows that the Tamil Diaspora ability to advance the message was their understanding that the message resonated with the American values and ideals. When issues were promoted by the collateral political/diplomatic wing of the LTTE they strategically placed them in line with the US administration thus having the greatest influence in policy oversights.

A major reason for some success of the activists of the Tamil Diaspora in affecting US diplomacy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka government is the nature of American politics and especially the power of the individual Congress member--which makes a unitary foreign policy unlikely.

The handlers of the overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing of Tamil Tigers and its franchises have well understood this scenario when engaging in lobbying activities.


Certainly, in recent years the US government is more disposed to hear concerns of ethnic Americans who endeavour to influence American diplomacy toward their country of origin if and when they promote democracy and human rights.

These current professional activists within the Tamil Diaspora were least interested when the Tamil Tiger leader Prabhaharan and his fighting and political cadres were violating the basic human rights of the Tamil people who were hostages in the north-east region of Sri Lanka.

Their profile is conveniently buried with their rhetoric of human rights and civilian deaths during the final stages of the war, and there is no one within the Sri Lankan polity to cogently present their past to tarnish their image in the face of the American policymakers and lawmakers.

The US-based Tamil Diaspora manoeuvred well within these American parameters.

Then the question arose as to how the American polity looked at the US-based Tamil Diaspora claim that it represents broader public interest of the ethnic Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The representatives of the Tamil Diaspora who envisaged to engage in advocacy and diplomacy since the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 obviously faced issues of representation and legitimacy. The American polity and its decision makers faced when confronted with Tamil Diaspora advocates "Who are these people and whom do they represent?"

Drastic changes

The strategy and manoeuvre the activists of the Tamil Diaspora adopted to get the ear of the American polity was to be seen as the sole advocate of Sri Lanka Tamil issues limiting Sri Lanka authorities' ability to speak for them (or own them) and eventually hold the hegemony on Sri Lanka Tamil issues. The pro-separatist advocates of the Tamil Diaspora in the United States benefited largely from the perspectives (or mind-set) the American foreign service officers (FSOs) developed between early eighties through mid-nineties within the portals of their Colombo Mission on issues that confronted the 12% ethnic Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka.

The advocates of the Tamil Diaspora which espouses an independent and separate nation in the north and east part of that country has well understood how the American system works to cater to the sentiments of the State Department officials and Obama White House advisors who have entertained that Sri Lanka has serious human rights, governance and rule of law issues that warrant a drastic change in its body politic. The State Department envisages transparency and accountability on the one hand influenced by many factors one of which is its close rapport with the activists (whose profile and credentials during the Prabhaharan era are yet to be disclosed to US side) within the Tamil Diaspora to which the State Department has tied the 'credibility' tag, and reconciliation among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, one of the not so serious agenda items pushed by the activists of the Tamil Diaspora when in conversations with American officials in Washington as its final objective was an independent and separate state.

Domestic agenda

The foreign policy handlers in Sri Lanka have let the advocates of the Tamil Diaspora dominate an issue that should have been within the perimeters of Sri Lanka's domestic agenda, allowed Prabhaharan's overseas collateral political/diplomatic wing and its worldwide franchises to influence US policy oversights that has led the American administration to place policy directives before the Government of Sri Lanka (often such policy statements giving the impression that Ambassador Michele Sison acts like the 'Governor' of Sri Lanka) and allow the Tamil Diaspora advocates to successfully make the American officials understand "Who are these people and whom do they represent?"

It is this scenario that one could sense the frustration that has developed in defence secretary Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa in penetrating the area of foreign policy cum domestic issues at a time the External Affairs Ministry has exhibited its inability to develop a strategy to break the unsavoury 'discourse' between the Tamil proponents of a separate state in Sri Lanka and the American polity (not forgetting the EU branch).

It is also under these circumstances that Colonel Rajapaksa airs his frustration though many pronouncements touching foreign policy, foreign relations and connected domestic issues such as devolution of political and administrative power to peripheral provinces.

Ambassador Sison's not so distant statement that Sri Lanka may face a situation "Beyond" the UNHRC prompted defence secretary to feel that she is acting like the 'Governor' of Sri Lanka.

The question that comes to one's mind to ask handlers of Sri Lanka's foreign affairs and relations is: "Who are these people and whom do they represent?". "What are their profiles and credentials when working with a terrorist organisation like the Tamil Tigers?". "Will Sri Lanka very cogently present the credentials and profiles of persons with whom the US and EU are dealing with?

Courtesy: Asian Tribune

Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Youth |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2014 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor